Wednesday 9 September 2020 2:12 pm

Lawyers consider 'virtual' firms in response to coronavirus

A growing number of lawyers are pivoting to “virtual” firms as they consider life outside of the traditional office environment due to the pandemic.

There has been a seven per cent rise in the number of lawyers at virtual firms in the UK since the outbreak of coronavirus according to business advisory firm Hazlewoods.

Read more: Linklaters tells lawyers they can spend half their time at home permanently

There are currently 1,355 lawyers working at virtual law firms, up from 1,270 pre-Covid and just 803 in 2017.

It is indicative of a general move away from the traditional office working, as companies reconsider the need for expensive office space.

Last month Linklaters told its employees they can spend up to half their time out of the office on a permanent basis.

The London-headquartered firm, which has more than 2,000 lawyers worldwide, said the new policy was based on its experience during the coronavirus pandemic.

Hazlewoods found that many lawyers are questioning whether they could earn more individually at a lower-overhead virtual firm by retaining a higher percentage of their billing.

And a number of lawyers are also seeing a shift to remote working as better for work-life balance. The idea of virtual law firms may be more attractive as they offer more freedom over the amount of work lawyers can take on and the hours they work.

Virtual law is a growing industry with several fast-growing and acquisitive practices. The biggest virtual firm, Keystone Law, now has 354 lawyers and is in the UK’s Top 100 firms, turning over £49.6m last year.

Read more: Listed law firm DWF sees revenue jump after coronavirus chaos

It has also made a number of hires from top law firms including magic circle firm Clifford Chance in recent months.

Hazlewoods partner Jon Cartwright said: “Six months ago, a lot of lawyers wouldn’t have been able to imagine not spending some 45 to 50 hours a week in the office, but they have been forced to get used to it very quickly. Some are finding that the prospect of going back to their desks isn’t particularly appealing. The work-from-anywhere model of a virtual firm is going to particularly be attractive for those individuals.”